|Pittsfield Schools Ending Student Resource Center Program|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:36PM / Friday, March 10, 2017
|The School Committee was updated about the proposed changed on Wednesday.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The school district is ending the partnership with the sheriff's office to provide alternative education.
Since 2006, the district has been contracting with the Berkshire County sheriff's office to run the Student Resource Center, formerly known as the Juvenile Resource Center. The program was for out-of-school suspensions and the district is now restructuring the way it handles discipline, reducing the number of those suspensions altogether.
"We think we need to use this as an opportunity to ramp up our in school suspension program," Superintendent Jason McCandless said at Wednesday's School Committee meeting. "We feel in-school suspension is most appropriate for incidents that occur during the day."
The suspension program began working out of the Second Street jail through a multimillion dollar grant but had faced some criticism. It gave students a place to go when suspended, instead of just having a skip day from education.
In 2014, the JRC moved to leased space in St. Luke's Square, departing the Second Street jail. Second Street is now used by the sheriff's department for re-integration programs.
"This is the next logical step in the progression," McCandless said.
The superintendent believes the effectiveness of the program has waned and said he is finding it increasingly difficult to justify funding it. He's noticed students have a "50/50" chance of actually showing up for the program. The district is now going to use out-of-school suspensions in only egregious cases and instead keep students in school.
The out-of-school suspensions will revert to the more traditional form, but ultimately McCandless expects that form of discipline to go away entirely.
The role of alternative education overall is to reach students who for one reason or another should not be with their fellow classmates. The school system has a spectrum of options as to how to manage such students. Those aren't necessarily all discipline-related — the district has teen pregnancy and the Positive Options Program for some students — but the largest use of alternative education is for disciplinary issues.
"One of the largest alternative programs we offer is what we refer to as in-and-out programs," McCandless said, referring to short-term suspensions.
Currently, the district runs an in-school suspension and what's called EOS Tier II out of Herberg Middle School. Herberg is also the home of the EOS Tier III program for the both middle schools. At Reid, there is the learning lab, in-school suspension, and EOS Tier II. The Positive Options Program is run out of Berkshire Community College. PHS has in school suspension and it's own EOS Tier II. Taconic has in-school suspension, EOS Tier II, and dropout prevention.
At St. Luke's Square, the district runs the out-of-school suspension program, the high school EOS Tier III, and a dropout prevention program for Pittsfield High.
The proposed changed include creating a EOS Tier III middle school program in both school instead of housing it all at Herberg. Reid will now run its own EOS Tier III program and continue with its learning lab, in school suspension, and EOS Tier II.
"We are not convinced that it is working to have all of the district's EOS tier III students in one school," McCandless said.
Berkshire Community College will continue to run the Positive Options Program. The PHS dropout prevention program will move back to the high school from St. Luke's Square and the high school will continue with EOS Tier II and in school suspensions. Taconic will continue with the same alternative programs.
And St. Luke's Square will eliminate the out-of-school suspension program, and give the dropout prevention program to PHS.
"The only thing we see being housed in that program for next year is high school EOS Tier III," McCandless said.
The changes in conjunction with a couple things as the district has been reviewing the programs. The district has changed the in-school suspension program throughout the district so it is not just a student spending all day doing homework. Instead, it includes pieces of the restorative justice program, works to make the students make right what they did wrong, and includes strategies for problem solving and anger management.
"We have to get curricula into the elementary and middle schools that show better ways to solve problems than the Jerry Springer model. Clearly, that is the go to for our adolescences," McCandless said.
The other aspects of the changes include trying to keep the students in their home schools as much as possible and to work to solve the problems with school staff instead of simply issuing an out of school suspension so staff doesn't have to deal with it for a few days.
Particularly, McCandless noticed a lot more physical actions such as fist fights and assaults at the middle school level. He says the new programs are developed to curb that type of behavior and teach students how to solve issues in other ways.
"The high schools are not the hot bed of hands-on type of things, assault type of things, fight type of things, it has really moved down to 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade," McCandless said.
Additionally, McCandless says he is accountable for discipline numbers in the schools and thus, he wants to ensure that he has as much direct oversight of the programs as possible, rather than contracting with an outside source.
Out of school suspension won't be going away entirely. McCandless said those will be reserved for severe issues such as selling drugs, having weapons, or serous acts of violence. The traditional out of school suspension does carry a positive in that it will inconvenience families of those who commit such violations, prompting them to take more responsibility. But, out-of-school suspension overall is expected to be faded out over time.
"I think out-of-school suspension is going to be the next thing to look like expulsion," McCandless said.
When it comes to preventing dropouts, the district is already ahead of the curb, posting a 1.9 percent rate last year — the lowest the district has had in a decade. The newly revamped programs are eyed to build on that. But, if it doesn't work, McCandless says the schools can always go back.
"We are trying something new, we are evolving. But if we see this is not working, nothing is carved in stone," McCandless said.